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Portland's Gun-Violence List Comes with Hazards, Critics Say

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Wednesday, October 12, 2022   

A new proposal to reduce gun violence in Portland would create a list of people likely to cause violence, but the plan has skeptics.

Known as the Violent Impact Player or VIP list, the risk-assessment program has been implemented in other cities, including Tampa, Florida. The list would "score" people based on six risk factors to predict the likelihood they'll offend again. The scored factors include probation or arrest in the past three years, gang affiliation and the suspects in -- or victims of -- gun crime.

Je Amaechi, digital organizer in Portland for Freedom to Thrive, said the program works too far downstream.

"To prevent gun violence, we really need to be looking at the causal issues," Amaechi explained. "Putting victims and perpetrators of gun violence on a list and following them around is too late. That's not going to fix the issues, which is, the underlying societal issues."

Amaechi added the other concern is it resembles a gang task force database the Portland Police kept until 2017, when the task force was disbanded over accusations of racial bias. More than 80% of the people on the list were racial or ethnic minorities.

Ed Williams, pastor at Mount Olivet Baptist Church and chair of Portland's Focused Intervention Team Community Oversight Group, which proposed the VIP list, said it is based on a strategic intervention program from the U.S. Department of Justice's
Project Safe Neighborhoods.

He noted the goal is to find the small number of people responsible for the vast majority of gun violence in Portland.

"It's to put them on notice," Williams asserted. "And it's also to offer them help to change their life and to turn their lives around."

Williams stressed communities dealing with such violence live in fear.

"Gun violence is devastating," Williams remarked. "We have to be a bit more creative, we have to be a bit more daring, we have to be a bit more courageous in how we go about addressing it."

Dan Handelman, co-founder of the group Portland Cop Watch, said it is important to point out the city's Black population is affected the most by police, from arrests to shootings. He believes the city is being too rash in implementing a VIP list without considering other alternatives.

"You really need to think about long-term solutions," Handelman contended. "See what's worked elsewhere; community-based programs, making opportunities available to people."

The oversight group has presented its proposal for a VIP list alongside another proposal called ShotSpotter, which would use hidden microphones to identify the location of gunshots.

Disclosure: Freedom to Thrive contributes to our fund for reporting on Criminal Justice, Immigrant Issues, LGBTQIA Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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